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Opinions of Saturday, 9 September 2006

Columnist: Bomfeh, James Kwabena

A Critical Look At Mining In Ghana.

Ghana is on the verge of turning 50 next year. It is therefore important as a people to take stock of our system and find out how far we have come and far we have to go in the direction of making our people enjoy the full length of development – human progress and happiness. We are told that one the most beneficial sectors of the economy is the mining industry. For years, several attempts are made by Multi-National Mining Companies, Mining advocate-Chamber of Mines, the Environmental Protection Agency, some Media Houses, and section of the business community to establish the fact that our economy cannot survive without the mining sector. Any attempt to challenge their view, backed by the realities on the ground is met with fierce resistance, name calling, denials and diversions. In this episode I shall deal with the mining topic in general and specific terms.

The first name of our great nation was Gold Coast. This name stemmed from the fact that there was enough gold at sight when the western sailors docked on our shores. Infact they could find no name other than describing the land with then rich mineral they had seen – the coast of gold. It is important to note here that there was no surface mining and all the complex methods associated with them in those days. Yet the presence of gold was so much that Gold Coast was the obvious name. After many years of mining gold more than before, has this nation taken the golden opportunity especially as she enters her golden age? Has gold bettered the lot of Ghanaian or it has rather been a problem?

The September, 2005 reports of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, UNCTAD reveal that annually, an average of $1bn is generated from the mining sector and only $46M representing less than 6% of the total amount generated. It is this meager figure that takes care of taxes, compensation, royalties, environmental/social mess (social responsibility), and advertisement etc. The messes created by the activities of miners include pits that collect rain water to become breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Specifics of this are seen around Obuasi in the Ashanti region; mining of societal amenities such as Hospitals and Police stations at Bogoso for example; dumping of faecal waste in river Asuopire by Newmont at near Kenyasi; synide spillages that destroy aquatic life; polluting the air to make breathing cancerous; land pollution that turn plants like cassava into poison. These are but a few of the numerous environmental messes that mining creates and leave only 5% of all that they loot in this country to settle. I urge you to quantify just the few mentioned and compare to find out if Mining indeed is a menace or a blessing to Ghana. Some where we are told by the Chamber of Mines of $1bn revenue generated from the Mining Sector alone. If this figure is right, then I wonder why we still require foreign aid so much to supplement our budgets. There is definitely something wrong somewhere. It will be interesting to know from the IRS, how much of this revenue stays on shore.

Ghanaians are losing against the mining giants. Most of the mining concessions are around cocoa farming areas. Large farms are destroyed and farmers as well as their employees rendered unemployed. Around the Newmont concession in Ahafo alone an estimated 16000people have been redeployed. Isn’t it necessary therefore to know the total workforce of the company (indigenes and expatriates alike) in Ghana? According to the Chambers of Mines (a mouth piece for Mining Companies in Ghana), “In2005, approximately 15,396 workers were directly employed in the mining sector” in the Vol.15 No.23 Thursday, August 24, 2006 edition of The Chronicle.

Today, the general feeling among Ghanaians with regards to human rights is a fair one and people are really happy about it. Unfortunately, this does not reflect in the mining areas. From day one, the people of Bogoso resisted the operations of Bogoso Gold Limited. Despite this, state agencies like the EPA created the impression as if the people were in agreement and recommended the opening of the Mine. The clashes between our security forces employed by the mining company and citizens betray the dishonesty of the various claims. Again, one may want to ask the true picture painted by the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) before the operations. If a proper job was done, how can a whole hospital and Police station be mined? The Chamber of Mines and Bogoso Gold limited may want to provide answers here. On 2nd November, 2005, at New Abirem, Newmont – Akyem mine secured the assistance of our police and military to launch a physical attack on the indigenes which resulted in serious fatal cases. Early this year, a sub-chief of Tibrebree near Tarkwa, a number of youth and a journalist were brutalized by a joint police/military operation under the auspices of the same mining companies. Faecal wastes were directed into the drinking river Asuopire. If these show respect for human rights, then God save us.

Isn’t it an irony that the communities sitting on huge deposits of gold in Ghana are counted among the poorest communities? A perfect comparism could be the sharp contrast between Johannesburg in South Africa and Obuasi in Ghana. Homes are separated as a result mining operations. Infact areas where people are assisted to relocate, the housing facilities provided are such that they cannot accommodate the family size. Hence some members are compelled to be disconnected. The cultural value systems are tampered with by the activities of miners. School dropouts go high because parents are unemployed and thus cannot afford their wards fees and upkeep. Early sex becomes more pronounced. Many other social vices are brood in these turned communities.

In the face of all these, a powerful tool the Mining giants employ is the media. They buy the media and use very effective public relation tactics, and experts to cover their mess and irresponsibility. Recently I read on the internet that “WACAM, an adversary of the Ashanti Gold had commended the environmental activities of the company”. When I cross-checked, this information on the official website of the company turned out to be blatant lies and they have been forced to withdraw. Clearly it was meant to create a false impression that they were cleaning up their mess and that even WACAM that has consistently sought the interest of community people with a landmark reputation approves of their new strides. This is how mischievous the public relations units of the companies in mining can be in carry out the bid of their paymasters. Again, when news broke that human waste from the Newmont plant had been directed deliberately into the drinking water of community people, they cried out so loud in the media that it was untrue only to turn around to apologize to the people of Kenyasi and its environs with some rice, cooking oil, and some less than 200,000 cedis. Another instance is where Newmont claimed in their 2006 calendar that a Ghana Government constructed road was built by them. When they were exposed, quickly speaker vans were dispatched to go and collect them with some 15,000 to 20,000 cedis in exchange. Just last week, news is all over that AshantiGold is selling one its mines, I await patiently to find out which company buys it. Normally, when the concessionary periods of these companies are expiring, they sell the mine to themselves in a guise just to run away from the environmental responsibility. They are full of tricks.

The humiliation meted out to the communities sitting on our minerals is far beyond foul and something must be done about it immediately. It is such exploitation, neglect, and abuse that led to the wars in Sierra Leone, Liberia, DR Congo, Rwanda, Angola and Somalia. Ghana must learn from the lessons of these other African countries. Clearly, mining has proved to a nations’ wrecker in our case than a partner in development as some people want us to believe. Here, I wish to caution, development is not the same everywhere, the common denominator of development however is human progress and happiness. Our people may harbor the ill-treatment for now, but for how long. The longer the resentments are piled, the more dangerous their explosion eventually. “The oppressed will not remain oppressed forever”. I therefore invite our Lawmakers, Civil society, the Students Union, the Media, the Executive, the Judiciary and the general Ghanaian public to join hands in resisting this menace. If our resources cannot bring about development, we must not allow others to destroy us in pursuit of them. “Yen ara yen Asaase ni” must resonate in all Ghanaians now more than before. We have the resources to build this nation without looking outside for any dictation or direction. All we need to do is to take stock of what we have and how we can use them to get to our destination of making our people work in happiness with the conviction that there is dignity in labour. Ghana deserves better and we can only make her great and strong with courage and the preparedness to sacrifice the fantasies of today for the real joys of tomorrow. It is better to suffer to gain than to gain to suffer.

News came with lots of shock to many though I expected it about the Government of CHAD given the gold miners in their country a 24hr ultimatum to leave their soil. This does not only buttress my position but further emphasis that there is a crop of people in Africa who are conscious of what we need and what we don’t. The time is ripe for such people to act now to save our nations and continent. One of the main causes to the suffering in Ghana and Africa is the allowance of corporate interest to subdue sovereign interest. Sovereignty is always at the mercy of one Multi National Enterprise or the other who loot us to ruin. Indeed, it is not the mining sector alone. They cut across and I shall discuss them gradually in subsequent articles.

My aim however is not to just bring this to knowledge of all, by most importantly to ginger the masses in general and our leaders in particular to rise and shine for Ghana and Africa. The cry of the sons and daughters of Ghana for freedom is more urgent and imperative today than it was before 1957, March 6. Colonialism and Imperialism have assumed more complex and draconic forms such that we need more courage than that of the freedom fighters of yester years. The oppressor’s rule must be resisted both from within and without!

James Kwabena Bomfeh Jnr
Executive Director
Youth for Action Ghana
P.O Box CT 1370
Accra, Ghana

Views expressed by the author(s) do not necessarily reflect those of GhanaHomePage.